Study Abroad…Maybe?

Today’s guest blog is by Kyle Rausch, our resident pop culture expert!  Kyle and I had a chat about  some videos that I saw online and it prompted a great discussion about whether pop culture is a distraction when studying abroad and how our students really use their time experiencing another culture.

“Hey I just met you, and this is crazy…but here’s my number so _____________”

Chances are that if you can finish that line then you were indeed alive and connected to the outside world during the past eight or so months when a relatively unknown Canadian singer took the world by storm with her infectious pop song.  Carle Rae Jepsen’s breakout first single “Call Me Maybe” was this year’s ubiquitous smash hit that had everyone from the U.S. Marines to the U.S. Olympic swim team throwing their light-hearted parodies on YouTube.  It seems there was no denying the plain and simple fun that Carly Rae had brought the world.

Recently, two more parodies hit the net, this time from study abroad participants:

At first glance, these videos just seem to be a drop in the bucket of a played out YouTube phenomenon, however here at Melibee, these videos raised some broader questions about Gen Y and study abroad.

Of course the videos function on one level as innocent fun for a group of American college students during what will undoubtedly be one of their fondest college experiences.  However, what are the cultural implications of carrying out such a project during a study abroad experience?  I have to say, as a recent college graduate/study abroad participant and young professional in international education, I myself was torn between wanting to dance along with these girls in their international locations and use this as a teaching moment.

Though we as international educators certainly want our students to enjoy themselves in what we know to be an incredible life experience, we also want the overarching mission of a study abroad experience to be educational.  Who knows how many hours of filming and editing these parodies took away from allowing these students to see the foreign sites and engage in meaningful cross-cultural dialogue with their hosts. Perhaps more unnerving would be to hear how locals felt about a bunch of American girls clad in their U.S. university gear parading about their hometown seemingly unapologetic about what interruptions they may or may not have caused.  Of course, such a statement might be taking what is just harmless fun to an extreme, but I think these videos are representative of a greater phenomenon that tends to occur when a group of American study abroad students remain together throughout a study abroad experience.  It is very easy to stick with the friends you came with and enjoy the many fun opportunities that await in these locations rather than branch away and get to know locals and develop a significant understanding of the host culture.

I’m the first one to admit I love a good time and want all of the students I work with to go out and enjoy the amazing feeling of being young and abroad with their friends, however I just want to make sure that we as educators are remembering to push our students and to encourage them to remember just how short their time abroad is in relation to developing meaningful cultural understanding. Let’s not give any more of our colleagues a reason to ask whether or not this is ‘study abroad, maybe?’

So, what do YOU think?  Were these videos just harmless fun or does it speak about some greater challenges you have witnessed regarding American students studying abroad?  Let us know if the comments!

About the Author:  Kyle Rausch works for Arizona State University’s International Programs in Tempe, Arizona.  In the past he has served as Immigration Specialist and Passport Acceptance Facility Manager at Florida State University where he is finishing his MS in Higher Education Administration.